A small surprise since landing in Los Angeles was discovering someone from the band HEALTH lives just up the road from me. You may have noticed me wearing this band’s merchandise, usually while gripping a kitten called Sebastian.
As well as making great tee shirts, they also make music I really adore — which I’d crudely (I am not musical and don’t understand genres) describe as a mix of electronica, industrial, synth and metal. Their record DEATH MAGIC is in my eternal top 10. It’s music that makes me feel good, and their live shows are a thing of beauty.
In summary — I’m a big HEALTH fan, and so I bugged them last week saying I’d love to talk to them for my newsletter. And then over the weekend they wrote to me saying “We’ve done a song with Nine Inch Nails” to which I said “Okay, let’s talk about that!”
And so at 7pm on Sunday night Jake Duzsik and John Famiglietti popped over to have a chat about this song that’s coming out in a few days. A song combining two of my favourite bands into the one place. Heaven!
We actually talked for quite a long time before I hit record — mostly just about things we’ve been enjoying lately. We talked Into The Storm, The Expanse and How To With John Wilson. Eventually I did hit record, and we got to talking about their collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails.
A conversation with HEALTH.
Look, I really don’t know anything about this thing you’ve made with Trent. What is it?
JAKE: The last release we did was a collection of collaborations. Every LP we have done in the past has a companion remix album. And as remix culture became less creative or fertile or pertinent in terms of the musical conversation, we kinda got to the point where we went “we don’t want to just do this because we always do this!”
When our band came out, there was this incredibly vibrant remix culture. The Knife would release an album and then there’d be all these remixes that were as good as the album! But that sort of changed — so we wanted to have an idea that was similar: “maybe instead of a remix companion album, we are just gonna do an album of collaborations.”
JOHN: And we would never do two of them in a row — which is what we’re doing — because, well, Covid. We can’t tour, everybody is at home, so it’s the perfect thing to do. And I don’t wanna drop an album if we can’t tour it.
JAKE: It really gets you out of any pitfalls of repetition of your own work. You have less time to be precious about things, because you are working with someone else. When I write melodies, I have certain things that I tend towards. And if someone else brings in something I would not have thought to do, that gives me an idea of how to bring my style to it. So it’s very fun.
And so part of the conversation the whole time is “it would be fucking amazing to do one of these with Nine Inch Nails.” Which given the amount of demand for Trent and Atticus’ work as composers now — it’s crazy.
And we’ve known them for quite some time, but it’s not like we’ve been in constant dialogue. And I just had this thought in the middle of the lockdown. We had enough experience with Trent in that he’s just an incredibly magnanimous, giving sort of person as far as our history of him and as a band.
You originally met him when HEALTH opened for Nine Inch Nails back in the day, right?
JAKE: Yeah, we opened for him and then we played shows with him again in LA and then he was just like “Alan Moulder, our mixer producer is going to be in town, you should do a song with him at my house”. He’s just very very helpful.
So it wasn’t “my manager is going to talk to your manager” — I had not heard from him in a really long time, but I knew if I sent him an email and he was busy, he’d be busy and he just wouldn’t respond, or he’d respond and say “I’m busy.” He’s just not the kind of guy who’s gonna be “what the fuck, how does this guy still have my e-mail?!”
And what I knew was that everybody was at home. No-one can fucking go anywhere. You are not even going into the studio to score. And as in demand as they are for film stuff obviously — they still had an incredible amount of stuff coming out — but at a certain point it did kind of stop.
Yeah, well nobody was filming anything new!
JAKE: Exactly. So I sent him an example — we’d done a track with a band that opened for him as well — so I sent him that track and said “here’s what we’re doing, the idea would be that we would collaborate on a track and build it from the ground up.”
And it was maybe long enough where I was like “it’s been long enough, this is not happening.” And I got an email from him and I was like: “oh shit.”
So we sent him a demo and we did it very purposefully, where we sent something that was very skeletal. Because if you sent mostly a done track, that is not a collaboration — you are asking someone to guest on it. And the thing that ended up being really remarkable on it was we have done a lot of these collaborations now, and there can be a fair amount of awkwardness and not knowing — getting comfortable with your bandmates takes time — so you never know what it’s going to be like.
But Atticus and Trent put in more effort and more time — we did conference calls! They take everything they do very seriously so it was very deliberate, with a lot of attention to detail. So it ended up being very — I mean we’ll send you the song if you’d like to hear it!
But stranger than fiction of course: we were all in Los Angeles, they [Trent and Atticus] were not working together at the time either, and John and I were working remotely —
JOHN: The fucking virus!
JAKE: So we were all within a short drive of each other! And I don’t want to be presumptuous, but given the demand on their time, it probably wouldn’t have happened any other way.
Yeah, I mean they just won their second Oscar and stuff.
JAKE: Yeah what the fuck!
And look, as a fan of both your bands this a dream come true.
JAKE: For me personally, he’s emailing me and he said “hey, I got the thing you sent, I did a traditional sort of verse-chorus kinda idea…”
And I know him, but when you talk to him it’s not the same as hearing his voice. His singing voice — which is iconic, and I’ve been listening to it since I was 12 years old. So it was fucking crazy to get that “here’s my scratch demo.”
That’s the only thing that’s fucked up: “So I have to sing with him too?” He called me to kind of talk about the song, and he went “well, I really think the chorus should be like you and me singing together.” And I was like “I don’t wanna sing! It’s like stinkin’ up the room!”
Yeah, you don’t wanna step on this voice.
JAKE: Just for me personally, I want to hear that voice in the song, not my voice! I don’t think of myself as being a terribly untalented musician or anything, but it’s kind of that line of — and this kind of music — the immediacy of the voice is what really emotionally moves people. There’s a reason why certain people’s voices touch people. It’s an emotional response.
What’s the song about, thematically?
JAKE: I think at the time it was written — part of the reason we wanted it to come out so quickly, is that being an American in America, we were in the middle of Trumpocolypse and George Floyd and so there is some pretty poignant messaging relating to that specific experience.
JOHN: But in the abstract. But there is real attitude there. It feels timely.
JAKE: And my side of the lyrics are a little more abstract, which is kind of the way I write. There is a little bit of a ying and a yang. We are very proud of how it came out.
JOHN: And we are not trying to write a single or anything. It’s longer, it’s got all these great parts, it’s really good. I mean fuck, why am I describing this song, I’ll just give it to you!
The track is mixed by Atticus Ross, and comes out on Thursday. If you’re a fan of HEALTH and Nine Inch Nails, you’ll be in a happy place. If you’re not a fan, this may make you a fan.
Look, I can’t say nice enough things about Jake and John. We talked a bit about documentary work and the state of America, and they had some other anecdotes about their time touring with Trent in the past.
They told me that often when you’re opening for a giant band, you have limits imposed on the gear you can use the volume you can go to. Basically, the main act doesn’t want you to out-stage them. It’s sounds nuts, but the opening band is often there to purposefully set the bar lower.
That wasn’t the case with Nine Inch Nails. Noticing HEALTH was struggling to grab attention in the arenas they were playing (keep in mind, this was a band used to playing 15-minute sets in small clubs!), Trent suggested HEALTH use Nine Inch Nails’ giant lighting rig to blast the audience with visuals. This was a giant screen meant to be a big reveal once Trent & co came out. But no — he gave it to the lil’ opening act. That’s so good.
It’s a delight when you meet people you admire and they are just wonderfully fun and nice. For HEALTH, it was their experience with NIN on that tour. For me last night, it was hanging with Jake and John. They brought me a mug and their own coffee. As I’m about to hit “send” on this newsletter, I am sipping a cup. It’s delicious.
And after they left my house last night, I got an email in my inbox. They had sent me the tune.
I threw some really chunky headphones and turned the HEALTH/NIN track up loud, and the song is — it’s great. You can hear it on the 6th. As they said in the subject line, I can’t share it. Sorry!
PS: If you are new here, sign up! If you’ve seen Tickled or Dark Tourist you can probably imagine the sorts of things I write about. There is a free version and a paid version. My brain, to your inbox. Here’s a preview of the stuff I write about.
PPS: If you want to share this interview, it’s webworm.co/p/health
PPSS: Last night as I closed the door to the back porch I spotted a freshly dead possum, just lying there. Hideous. I chose to ignore it until the morning — but 30 minutes later later, I went to take a photo of this morbid sight. The dead possum was no longer there. In the pitch black, I suddenly felt a little scared. What had moved the body? I turned my phone light on, shining into the darkness. There it was, 10 metres away on the grass. Still dead. But a little more mangled. What the hell had done that? What is bigger than a possum here? I don’t know America well enough. I’ve locked all the doors.